Disability: A Matter of Perception
26 April, 2012

As I was packing and getting ready to leave New York; I thought about how much a person living in the United States can achieve. No matter the race or ethnical background, you are equal and there is no discrimination towards you. To me, New York in particular, is a city for everyone. A musician finds it musical, an artist finds his muse, a businessman finds his way around, and in other words it’s a city with vast opportunities welcoming people

of all abilities. And then, I can’t’ help but think about the most oppressed people in Georgia. As if being bound to a wheelchair for their whole lives wasn’t enough, they have no other choice but to be bound to their homes and their family members.

I haven’t thought about this issue before, during the summers when I visited, but this time was different. When I moved to Georgia, what caught my attention were the sidewalk corners. As I walked around town with my son in his stroller, I noticed that the corners of the sidewalks had no slope. I wouldn’t have a problem getting up on the sidewalk, but what about the disabled? And then I started to look around for slopes in town…well, they’re hard to find! They either don’t exist or are inclined at such an absurd angle that crashing or rolling back is inevitable. Think about shopping. Now think about the movies that have no elevators. And then think about a regular stroll about town. “Easy” for us to say, but even getting out of their homes is probably a hassle since elevators are mostly located after a short flight down the stairs.
I don’t understand how this mistake can be made while planning a city. In the U.S and Europe it would be considered biased and a lawsuit for the store, caf?, theater or any other place with no inclined entrance or elevator would probably be inescapable. I was always irritated that the best parking spaces were reserved for the handicapped, but now I understand.  Think about how depressing it would be to sit at home all day and wait for someone to help you go outside. And once outside, there isn’t much you can do. You can’t go to the theater or the movies or cross the street without a little obstacle after each block.
In U.S, there is no disability. A person is a person no matter what. He has all the rights that any other person co-living in the city has, and most importantly he has the right to his independence. Buses have special seats that can be folded up to make space for a wheelchair, not to mention the stairs that flatten out in the rear door and turn into a lift. People with a disability are, in this sense, respected to make their troubled lives easier. Any auditorium, from a regular movie theater to a Broadway show, has special seating close to the exits. In other words, these people with misfortune live a regular civilian life. They have fun, go to school, work, meet friends and some even drive (with special appliances to help them with the pedals), with no big obstacle to make a reminder of their frailty.
To this day, most people don’t know that one of the most renowned and important president to the U.S, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was in fact a “cripple”. He suffered from polio in 1921, which took away his legs and partially his right arm. He could not get out of bed or get dressed without assistance. The word “cripple” was usually used by the opposing party to shatter him politically for the public, but obviously that always seemed to fail since FDR was elected four times as the President of the United States. However, he himself never talked about his disability and therefore most people never knew. The press respected him and his privacy so much so that no pictures were taken until he was seated in his wheelchair or until the much needed heavy braces on his leg were put onto help him stand. Nonetheless, he is known as one of the most influential political figures of the twentieth century.
I like this system, and I especially like the fact that people with disabilities can be independent and still follow their dreams. I used to think that there weren’t as many wheelchair-bound people in Georgia, but now it seems funny and much too sad that we just don’t see them because they have no place to go to forget their problems. Who knows, there can be a genius ready to finally cure cancer for good, sitting at home thinking about what to do with his life; or a wonderful artist hiding away somewhere, who couldn’t go to school because she was too ashamed of her wheelchair; or maybe even a very powerful and significant future president couldn’t get a descent education and, along with others like him, is sitting at home. I hope this discriminatory view towards the disabled changes soon enough and people begin to welcome them in our society.

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